Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Health and Kinesiology

First Advisor

Meghan H. McDonough

Committee Chair

Meghan H. McDonough

Committee Member 1

Aryn M. Dotterer

Committee Member 2

Frank J. Snyder


Physical activity-based positive youth development (PYD) programs have the potential to promote positive psychosocial and personal growth (Fraser-Thomas, Côté, & Deacon, 2005) and reduce health risk behaviors in youth (Tebes et al., 2007). Engagement, a motivationally-oriented construct representing the subjective quality of youths’ connection to a program (Skinner, Kindermann, Connell, & Wellborn, 2009), may help promote the positive outcomes associated with PYD participation. Based on competence motivation theory (Harter, 2012), program staff may affect engagement by providing instructional feedback related to program activities, and by fostering the interpersonal climate within the program. This study examined whether youths’ perceptions of their relationship with their staff leader in a physical activity-based PYD program predicted health risk behaviors and changes in hope and self-worth throughout the program, the degree to which these associations were mediated by youth engagement, and whether these associations were moderated by youths’ gender and racial/ethnic similarity to staff leaders. Structural equation modeling results demonstrated that youth-staff relationship quality positively predicted both behavioral (β = .94, p < .001) and emotional engagement (β = .85, p < .001). Emotional, but not behavioral, engagement positively predicted changes in hope (β = .45, p < .01). Engagement did not predict health risk behaviors or global self-worth, and there were no effects of youth-staff relationship quality on outcomes. Youth-staff racial similarity interacted with relationship quality to predict both behavioral (β = -.25, p = .01) and emotional (β = -.26, p < .05) engagement, while both gender (β = .24, p = .01) and racial/ethnic (β = .21, p = .01) similarity directly predicted behavioral engagement. High quality youth-staff relationships may promote program engagement, stressing the importance of teaching staff how to develop positive relationships with youth in physical activity-based PYD programs, and staff similarity to youth may affect these processes.

Included in

Psychology Commons